Shaun Assael’s STEROID NATION Excerpts

Shaun Assael’s STEROID NATION Excerpts

Written by Shaun Assael
Tuesday, 23 October 2007

tijuana, mexico

November 1995

“Get yourself a stack of pesos and put them on the bar,” Dan Duchaine told the man on the barstool next to him. If there was one thing that became evident since Duchaine’s release from prison, it was that he needed access to the new minds of his business. The young Bostonian hoisting a beer beside him, Bruce Kneller, was just what The Guru ordered.

Kneller was a registered nurse who grew up reading Duchaine’s articles. While Duchaine was in prison, Kneller saw one of his columns and disagreed with a conclusion, sending a stack of medical literature to back up his point. Duchaine surprised him with a letter back that asked him to become The Guru’s newest research assistant.

Their medical conversations ran late into many nights. But the one place Kneller couldn’t rival Duchaine was in his lust for life’s darker side. When he visited his new boss in San Diego, Kneller was greeted by the suggestion that they go carousing over the border in Mexico. They drove into Tijuana, then parked Duchaine’s van and walked into a world of bustling alleys bathed by half-lit neon signs offering every manner of vice to cash-carrying Americans. Pharmacies advertised steroids in their windows. Bars advertised far more than that. Duchaine grabbed Kneller by the elbow and followed two men through a nondescript door. Kneller was almost relieved to see that it was just a strip joint. They grabbed a seat and he ordered a round of beers. It was then that Duchaine told him to get a four-inch-high stack of pesos.

“Why?” he asked.

“You’ll see.”

Kneller did as he was told, and a stripper dancing atop the bar came by, eyeing the coins. Parking herself in front of him, she knelt down so that her buttocks touched the bar and, to Kneller’s astonishment, sucked up the stack. Duchaine patted Kneller on the back. “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

Almost on cue, the lights went down and the crowd looked over to a rickety stage where a donkey was trotted out on one end and a naked woman brought out on the other. As the woman lay down, the donkey was brought to her. Over the next few minutes, she proceeded to fellate the animal until it sprayed across her face. Kneller nearly fell off his chair in revulsion. Duchaine threw his head back and just laughed. Slapping Kneller, he said, “Now you’ll have something to tell your Boston friends about.”

There was more to the weekend. Back in Carlsbad, California, Duchaine had gotten Kneller drunk and hooked him up with a porn star. But by the time Kneller was ready to fly home, he had the feeling that it wasn’t healthy to spend too much time around Dan Duchaine. The drug use, the endless women who offered their bodies up to him as experiments, the stints in prison, all the shady people he hung out with-maybe no one could have escaped all that with their psyche unscathed. But Duchaine seemed a bit too enamored of his demimonde. While being around him could be electric, it could also be toxic. Look at what had happened to his wife Shelley Harvey, and the countless women who had adverse reactions to his advice. Too many bad things happened to too many people who trusted Dan Duchaine.

Perhaps the toxic lifestyle was a reaction to what was happening inside of Duchaine-to the kidney disease that was slowly destroying his body. Maybe he sensed that he wasn’t going to have to live with the consequences of his actions for long, so what the hell? Duchaine went to Mexico for a hair transplant to cover up the bald patch on the back of his head and got the baggy skin under his eyes lifted. But there was no mistaking the clock silently ticking inside the 43-year-old-the cysts expanding across his liver, pushing away the healthy tissue just as he was pushing away the healthy things in his life.

Through the fall of 1995, Duchaine dove back into being The Guru, although this time with a twist. Now that he felt truly unshackled, he wanted to write about his life, not hide behind his advice columns anymore. He wanted to show the world what he had shown Kneller-that all the wannabes could try to copy him, but none of them could stand to live the same reckless way that he did. He proved it in the November 1995 issue of Muscle Media with a new column he dubbed The Rant. For his first subject, Duchaine tackled the men who liked to pay female bodybuilders to wrestle with them or undress, otherwise known as “schmoes.” Describing them with a sharp, unforgiving eye, he wrote:

Schmoes. Female bodybuilder worshipers. Loners. Not dangerous looking. Physically weak and begging to be dominated. Always lurking around bodybuilding shows. Most are near-broke. Take pictures with an Instamatic camera with
a flashcube.

One of the early female bodybuilders, who’s still a stripper in Alaska, coined the term. It’s probably some Jewish/Yiddish term and shouldn’t be applicable to these groupies, but somehow the name stuck. In other subcultures, you’ll find opera-diva worshipers or fashion-model worshipers or ballet adulation. So it shouldn’t be any surprise that schmoes exist in female bodybuilding.

Duchaine was also eager to prove that he could keep up with all the new products being peddled under DSHEA. One of his new ideas involved pouring high doses of ephedrine-a molecular cousin of amphetamine derived from ma huang, an herb used in Chinese medicine-into a fruity Kool-Aid-like drink.

David Jenkins, his old steroid-smuggling buddy, had a supplement company called Next Nutrition that was based near where Duchaine was living in Carlsbad. Duchaine shared the recipe with him and after mixing up a batch in his basement, Jenkins decided that it tasted like a hit. He started selling it under the name Ultimate Orange with ads that tantalizingly warned it wasn’t for “every Pencil-Necked Ding Dong in your gym.”

Duchaine had no problem selling legal speed. After all, ephedrine was the least of what he put in other people’s bodies. But he felt differently about steroids now. Although DSHEA had opened all sorts of doors, he still had nightmares about the feds knocking down his. If someone wanted to pick up his steroid torch, they were welcome to it.

Golden, Colorado

August 31, 1996

… Bill Phillips began to negotiate the buyout of EAS in earnest. He had agreed to give each of his partners five years of lucrative consulting fees in exchange for their 60 percent of the company. As they saw it, the deal was the best they could do under the circumstances; if they refused, Phillips would take his masterful marketing skills with him and they would likely be back to where they had started. For his part, Phillips couldn’t wait to stamp EAS permanently with his super-sized ego. As soon as the deal closed, he set about building a new corporate monument to himself-a gleaming $6 million headquarters for EAS that was, in effect, the house that Creatine built.

To christen it along with his growing celebrity, Phillips decided to throw a party on August 31. Duchaine arrived with his friend John Romano early in the evening, dressed in black tie. A red Lamborghini with a “ZOOOOM” license plate greeted them in the parking lot, as did a silver helicopter that had been waiting to shuttle VIP guests. Duchaine tried not to seem impressed, but Romano couldn’t help himself. A few weeks earlier, Phillips had sent a first-class ticket to Romano in San Diego so he could make a personal pitch for Duchaine’s prot?©g?© to work at Muscle Media. As the two men sat down in a lavishly appointed conference room, Phillips noticed that his guest had broken his expensive watch on the trip. With great fanfare, he summoned a smartly-tailored butler to have it fixed, ASAP.

Phillips was a master of the grand gesture, Romano thought. And as the chopper landed, he could see that the man was a good master of ceremonies, too. A red carpet and spotlights led them into a tent where ice sculptures dripped with champagne and Playboy-quality waitresses sauntered past with overflowing food trays. Phillips tried to add a dose of glamour to the Colorado night by inviting Demi Moore, Sylvester Stallone, and even Arnold Schwarzenegger, creating a true VIP section should they arrive. None of them did, of course, so the friends made themselves comfortable, drinking expensive port and smoking cigars.

Watching Phillips work the room reminded Duchaine of how different the two men were, and why after everything he had been through, he was still basically living hand to mouth. Duchaine delighted in surprising people with his bluntness and caustic wit. Phillips, on the other hand, used his considerable charm. Writ large, that charisma allowed him to sell a simple product like Creatine to tens of millions of customers. It was also clear that Phillips couldn’t leave that part of his life behind fast enough.

As the night continued, Duchaine felt like the lone survivor of a bygone era, and he grew angrier and angrier about what he was seeing. Who were these pasty-faced people with their big stomachs and frozen faces, gorging themselves on the profits of an industry he had helped create? This wasn’t what he had meant to start with the Underground Steroid Handbook. It made him sick inside. Sicker than he already was.

“Come on,” he told Romano, suddenly upset with himself for coming at all. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”

The two had taken the helicopter back to the parking lot, when they heard Phillips take the stage to deliver some words. His soft voice carried over the PA system as he thanked his parents, his friends, and all the people who had come. “But there’s one person I have to thank, above all,” he said. “And that’s Dan Duchaine.”

“Shit,” Duchaine muttered under his breath. “I guess we have to go back.”

Romano watched from the back of the tent as his friend was called on stage to a huge round of applause. He had to hand it to Phillips-the man was the master of the grand gesture.


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